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Bishop William Morris, Acting Chairman of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council, has today issued a statement on behalf of the ACSJC calling for an end to the bombing of Afghanistan.

The full text of his statement follows.

The ACSJC has been shocked and saddened by the terrorist attacks on Washington DC and New York City on 11 September.  We have watched with growing alarm as the military response to these events has unfolded.  We are deeply concerned at this time for the welfare of Australian service personnel deployed in this conflict, and for the civilian population of Afghanistan.

The use of force, even where there is just cause, must respect moral principles.  The Australian Catholic Social Justice Council is opposed to the current bombing of Afghanistan because we believe that it does not conform to the conditions for a morally legitimate use of force.

For the use of force to be justifiable, a number of conditions need to be met simultaneously:

  1. It must be an act of self-defence against an unjust aggressor
  2. The action must be initiated by a legitimate authority
  3. It must be the last resort after all non-violent means have been exhausted
  4. There must be a reasonable chance of success
  5. The action must not cause greater evil than that which it sets out to address
  6. The action must discriminate between combatants and non-combatants

These conditions are a formulation of the ‘just war’ criteria.  We have reflected on each in turn to discern whether or not they are being met in the current military action.

Self Defence:
That responding to the events of 11 September is a matter of legitimate self-defence is conceded by most observers, especially in the light of concerns raised by the subsequent anthrax outbreaks and the possibility of future attacks.

Legitimate Authority:
The ‘just war’ tradition recognizes that states such as the United States of America have legitimate authority to act in defence of their citizens.  All efforts should be made to involve the appropriate international authorities, especially the United Nations (Gaudium et Spes n 79, Catechism of the Catholic Church n 2308).  The ACSJC does not believe that a legitimate authority has authorized the current military action in Afghanistan.  The United Nations Security Council is the appropriate authority in this case, not a self-appointed grouping of nations.

We reiterate our statement that Australia should not be supporting any use of force that is not authorized by the United Nations Security Council.

Last Resort:
The ACSJC does not believe that the current military action in Afghanistan has been undertaken as a last resort after all non-violent means had been exhausted.

Negotiations, the careful use of sanctions, and financial measures against the supporters of terrorism all require time to produce results.

It will take concerted action over a long period of time to really address the root causes of terrorism.  The use of force is incapable of addressing such causes.

Chance of Success:
For the use of force in a just cause to be legitimate, it also needs to have a reasonable chance of success.  Several weeks of bombing and other military actions in the ‘war against terrorism’ do not appear to have produced the desired outcomes.  Despite the explusion of the Taliban from Kabul, the suspects have not been apprehended and peace and security have not been established.

As the winter closes in, the prospect of a long and difficult ground campaign looms large.

The ACSJC has serious doubts about the chances of the military campaign succeeding in bringing the suspects to face justice, and achieving peace.

As the campaign continues it seems more and more likely that any good achieved will be outweighed by the suffering and death caused and the anger and mistrust generated among Muslim people around the world.  The danger of escalation is very real, as is the likelihood of perpetuating the conflict in this and future generations.

The number and type of bombs being dropped on Afghanistan seems to be out of proportion to the aim of the exercise.

Many ordinary Afghanis have been displaced and are facing starvation.  Without the international humanitarian aid that has been barely keeping the civilian population alive in the face of famine, many are sure to perish this winter.

Attempts by military forces to provide civilians with relief by dropping food parcels have been fraught with practical difficulties. Many international aid workers have been critical of the efficacy and adequacy of this method of delivering food in the current situation.

It appears to the ACSJC that a spiral of injustice, violence and religious intolerance is being fed by this military action, which is out of proportion to its end.

When armed conflict breaks out, even in a just cause, morality is not suspended.  Non-combatants, wounded soldiers, and prisoners must be respected and treated humanely - any use of force must discrimate between them and combatants (Gaudium et Spes n 79, Catechism of the Catholic Church n 2312 - 2313).

The civilian death toll is mounting.  The current bombing in Afghanistan is not discriminating adequately between the innocent and the guilty, between non-combatants and combatants.  The use of cluster bombs is intrinsically indiscriminate and therefore morally unacceptable.

The ACSJC believes that the failure of this action to guarantee adequate protection for the civilian population is a major moral problem, sufficient in itself to require the cessation of bombing.

In sum, the ACSJC does not believe that the current military action in Afghanistan meets the conditions for a legitimate use of force.

The ACSJC calls on the Australian Government to:

The ACSJC calls on the Catholic community to:

Prayer for Peace
All loving and ever-present God,
You encircle us with Your wisdom and inspire us with Your Word.
Be present amongst us
as we work for peace and justice in our world.

We pray for those who at this time
face danger in the defence of justice.
We pray for the members of the Australian
Defence Force, and for our leaders.
We pray too for the people of Afghanistan,
and for those who are refugees from that country.
Remove from the hearts of all people
the path of terrorism.
Remove too from the hearts of all people
the passions that give life to war.

We ask this in the name of Jesus, Your Son,
who lives with You, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
now and forever,

Adapted from a prayer for peace by Reverend Professor James Haire President, Uniting Church in Australia